Friday, July 5, 2013

History, How I Love History

Yup, I bet that surprises most of you. But I really do love history. Once upon a time, I read a great deal of historical fiction. The heavy stuff, from Leon Uris, James Michener and Allen Drury to William Manchester.

I devoured American History, Irish History, Native American History…I just couldn’t get enough. I even thought, at one point, that I would write tomes such as Uris, Michener and the like. But…I discovered as much as I enjoyed reading it…I really didn’t want to write it.

I didn’t want to write REAL history. I discovered the joy of my life…mucking with history, trampling thru the facts, rewriting what happened… I wanted to write Hollywood history! (Really, Hollywood never gets it right.) When real history gets in the way of a good story, the solution is simple. Change it.

If you change it a lot, like toss in vampires, zombies or overt paranormal elements, it isn’t too hard. And it’s easy for readers to see it, recognize it and know this isn’t about the facts, ma’am. 

If you change it a little, add in a new person who meets famous people, or turn a well-known figure into a solver of mysteries…ala the ones I read where Jack London solved mysteries in the San Francisco Bay…you can get away with it. As long as you don’t interfere with what is known as historically accurate.

But if you claim you’re writing what really happened, you have to get the facts right. All of them, from dress codes to furniture to available food items…street names…I mean, be accurate. Because if you aren’t…someone is going to care and spell out to you exactly how much of an idiot you are.

Now, I write adventures. And in my adventures, I write deliberately inaccurate history. I know that pirate ships of the 1690’s didn’t have ship wheels. They had a whipstaff. Tortuga was actually a tiny little ramshackle town, perched on the rocky shores of a small island, not an established pirate city, with merchants, a mayor and all. And Port Royal was a city of great sin, not a calm British settlement, the center of the British realm in the Caribbean.

Yeah, I know these things. I know chocolate wasn’t readily available. I know coffee wasn’t available. I know Elizabeth didn’t marry and leave the crown to her children. I know England didn’t release Ireland as a possession in the 1700s. I know…well, I know a lot.

But that isn’t fun. And it doesn’t fit what I want my characters to experience. I do try to make it plain, in my blurbs, in my blathering about the books…but I still worry someone is going to attempt to nail me on getting a historical fact wrong. I’m considering a sticker for my books… Warning: Deliberately Historically Inaccurate. 

Yet, I love history. As I sit here, on the Fourth of July, writing this, the television is playing a series called The Revolutionary War. A historical step by step of the American War of Independence. Love. It.

What do you say? Do you have a favorite historical period you like to read? A book? Are you interested in the books which rewrite or muck about with historical truth, or does it irritate you? If you could rewrite anything of history…what would you do?


quantum said...

I don't much care for 'mucking about with history' and prefer books that explore the fictional exploits of fictional characters without changing period landmarks.

With time travel however, I am OK with parallel universes. Travelling back in time can land a character in a parallel universe where changing the course of events does not lead to paradoxes and allows eating chocolate in the middle ages! I interpret Miranda's travels through time in this way.

By the way, how come Sean's Revenge is priced so much higher than all your other kindle books? Reflects a parallel universe where books cost more I guess! LOL

Terri Osburn said...

When you grow up reading historical romance, there are facts you know, and there are things you think are facts that you know. If I'm reading a book set in the early 19th century, I'm not going to know if a cravat was worn in the exact fashion in which the author describes. Don't care if it was either.

But the big things need to be right. They're not driving an Edsel in 1815. They're not sailing from London to Boston in a week in 1780. I think the trick is to find the facts about history that you can make interesting and fun. There's plenty of twists and turns in the fact books, you just have to find them.

Janga said...

I like historical fiction, and I'm usually happy with anything from the 14th century through the first half of the twentieth. I do have a problem when authors alter facts about historical figures unless it is clear that the action is taking place in an alternative universe. I don't mind an author having Shakespeare show up in a place where history doesn't place him or gives the Dark Lady a particular identity, but I'm not interested in reading a book that makes him a murderer or gives him a shoe fetish.

Maureen said...

I don't think I realized it was priced that high, Q! I promise to examine this paradox and remedy it!

There is a real talent to stepping into history with a story and not creating any muck ups. I do enjoy the stories, like the Jack London one I mentioned, that manage to spice up what we either don't know about a character or don't care...? So that they make us care...

It's perplexing!

Maureen said...

Ah, I see my reply to Terri disappeared into an alternate universe... Odd.

What did I say?

Oh, yeah, how I find the real history buffs fascinating. When they scream that a pleat is out of place, I want to ask them, "How do you KNOW? Were you there?"

I do like books to passively teach me something, and for that something to be correct. But I also love the deliberate doing something I know is out of place. Like a unicycle in Port Royal. There is something delightful about that level of muckery!

Maureen said...

Janga - I see your point. We don't want to see a character too fictionalized. Especially ones that are so well established.

If it's plain from the book cover, or blurb, etc, I can suspend my belief to a level that will allow me to enjoy a certain level of it...

But you know, it was like watching Life of Pi last night with my husband, who couldn't stop spouting out what he would have done differently. He was unable to accept the level of fiction being portrayed. But he is an engineer...sigh.

I wanted to duct tape his mouth closed.

He can do it with things like Star Wars or Avatar or movies that are so far removed from 'real life' but when something is presented in contemporary terms...? He just can't let go of reality.

Where as I? I love diverting from reality.

Maureen said...

Q - Keep an eye on the price... ;-)

Terri Osburn said...

I'm with Steph. I watch a lot of movies and TV shows yelling, "Oh, come on!" a lot.

Maureen said...

You two should watch something together. I'll put on headphones.

Suspension of to wonders of fiction... How short every story would be if people were logical, talked to each other, or did the right thing every time!


Terri Osburn said...

It doesn't have to be the right thing, it just has to be plausible. And I'm talking more about action movies and shows. They're so ridiculous.

P. Kirby said...

My suspension of disbelief seems to be a direct function of the book/film's characterization. In other words, if you can hook me with the characters, I'll ignore some logical fallacies.

OTOH, because I'm a horse person, I'm always, always, always, super picky about horse details. I reckon it's the same for history buffs. That's their area of expertise, so every little historical flub sticks out like a big, red sore thumb.

As for me, my knee-jerk reaction is to say I loath history as a subject. (I remember doing Statics and Physics homework in the one history class I was forced to take in college.) But...I enjoy some of the historical documentaries on PBS. In general, I prefer treatments that focus on the personalities and lifestyles of the time, rather than a litany of dates and dry facts.

Also, my preference is for long ago history, many hundreds or thousands years removed, to anything in the past couple hundred years. I think because the farther back in history one goes, the more the details are wrapped up in supposition and, frankly fantasy.

Because...fantasy, fuck yeah.

Maureen said...

Yeah, Pat...I sometimes think it's all fantasy. All those things 'they' say are real...were they?

I think what has always fascinated me about history is the cause and effect, the action/reaction. In retrospect, it's always so easy to figure out.

I want to see what you think about The Lone Ranger and Silver's depiction... ;-)

MsHellion said...

My current favorite "historical drama" I love to watch is CALL THE MIDWIFE. Oh, the 50s before the Pill. Before legalized abortion. Where 10 people in a 2 room flat was quite likely.

Reading wise...I think I could do about any period, but I have a soft spot for rebellious heroines who can thrive in restrictive settings, so long as there is real repercussions to the heroine, et al. That the restrictive settings are truly in place...and the rebelliousness of the heroine fits her character (i.e. she's not a modern girl in a historical dress, 90210, Dude where's my carriage). Small rebellions.

Janga said...

Chance, you said, "I sometimes think it's all fantasy."

That reminds me of a quote (I think it's by Cleanth Brooks): "History is a fiction often retold."

Maureen said...

So true, Janga. I think anything told often enough and loud enough becomes history. Regardless of the facts.

Hel, I do agree about people fitting their eras. But then again, the real history makers are usually the ones who refuse the mold!